As any outdoorsman or hunter will tell you, the long term happiness we get from the wilderness experience isn't just about the kill. It's about the narrative quality of each adventure, the lessons gleaned from trial and adversity and the way the ruggedly created world changes who we are.
In many ways, our exploits in the wild are a portrait of life: It's the place where preparation and practice can't be cheated, where character is revealed in the furnace of extreme external forces and the place we must face our greatest obstacle — our own fear. Oftentimes it's in the wild we find out who we really are, what we're really made of.
The greatest outdoor movies of all time are woven together with this sort of material. They remind us of the grandeur and splendor of the natural world, the often violent way it forms us and the raw power of the truths we learn there. We're reminded of the bond of friendship as well as the pain of loss. We feel the desperation of defeat and the unspeakable joy that comes after our own fears are overcome.
With all the elements of a man-night classic — beards, guns and breathtaking cinematography from around the world — we present you with the greatest outdoor movies of all time. Get the popcorn going, pour a glass of bourbon and enjoy one of these great films.
If you're willing to brave the entire 21-hour mini-series, Centennial
(1978-79) is legendary. Based on the book by James A. Michener, the film features great performances by Raymond Burr, Richard Chamberlain, Timothy Dalton, Andy Griffith and Mark Harmon. It captures the expansion of Colorado through the eyes of a fictional town, Centennial, from the 1700s to about 1970, and was the most ambitious TV project ever at that time. With four directors, a $25 million budget and over 100 speaking parts, Centennial is a masterful portrait of the American West.
4. Dances with Wolves
Although a lot of what happens in Dances with Wolves
(1990) is probably unrealistic — like how quickly the Native Americans welcomed Kevin Costner as one of their own, or how a stray wolf became a pseudo-pet and confidant — the film does a great job of portraying the beauty of the American West and the friction between the natives and the white settlers. Epic fight scenes, buffalo hunts and a mostly feel good story make this a classic film.
1. The Ghost and the Darkness
With performances by Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas at their very best, The Ghost and the Darkness
(1996) reminds us all that we must face our fears with courage. The film captures the beauty and rawness of Africa in a former time — a time when British empirial pursuits sent Colonel Patterson (Kilmer) to build a railroad in a God-forsaken town.
Expert hunter Charles Remington (Douglas) brings his wit and humor, as well as brawny persona, to the film. The amazing wild of Africa, rogue lions and a great story make this film one of the all time greats in any genre.
8. The Grey
After a plane crash in the barren wasteland of Alaska, a group of hardened oil men — led by Liam Neeson — struggle to survive and fight off a pack of wolves. The Grey
(2011) is, quite simply, epic. Give me Liam Neeson with a few broken bottles, some electric tape and a solo fight with a pack of wolves and I'll give you one of the best outdoor films of all time.
2. Jeremiah Johnson
Robert Redford plays the quintessential manly man, Jeremiah Johnson
(1972), in this classic film. As a mountain man/trapper, Johnson journeys through the Rocky Mountains while struggling to survive, hunt and fight off Native Americans. Rugged beards, a thirst for vengeance and the Redford charm all make this a top pick on any outdoor film list.
7. Legends of the Fall
Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt and Aidan Quinn star in the Legends of the Fall
(1994) about the Ludlow family, which takes place in Montana before, during and after World War I. With amazing camera work from the great American West, Legends of the Fall won an Academy Award for cinematography and was nominated for two others. As he did in A River Runs Through It, Brad Pitt manages to destroy his family, leaving viewers to ponder the consequences of passion and choice. Despite that, it also shows off everything beautiful about the always rugged Montana.
9. Where the Red Fern Grows
If you need a good cry, make sure to check out Where the Red Fern Grows
(1974). Based on the classic book by Wilson Rawls, the movie traces the early life of a boy in the Ozarks as he buys and trains his two hound dogs. Set in the 1930s Depression era, Where the Red Fern Grows captures the down-to-earth, blue-collar experience of the outdoors in a difficult time. This is the movie that takes you back to a child-like love of the simple things in life — a good dog, hard work and the pleasure of being in the outdoors.
6. A River Runs Through It
Directed by Robert Redford, A River Runs Through It
(1992) captures the breathtaking beauty of Montana through the lives of two boys who grow up before our eyes. Brad Pitt, who plays one of the brothers, does a masterful job of destroying a family, much like his performance in Legends of the Fall. This is practically a manifesto for the worth of fly fishing and of the epic scenery of the West.
3. True Grit
Whether you take your True Grit
with John Wayne (1969) or Jeff Bridges (2010), this film shows off the beauty and danger of life in the wilderness. Funny, witty and yet still profoundly deep, True Grit is a masterpiece.
After the death of her father by the crazed Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track down the cold blooded killer. Funny as always, Matt Damon plays LaBoeuf, the tag along lawman. Bridges shines as Cogburn, which is hard to do when you're trying to fill the shoes of John Wayne.
5. Open Range
After a group of corrupt townsfolk harass and kill a few of their free grazing companions, Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall head in to town to settle the score in Open Range
(2003). Annette Benning is lovely, as always, and the one-liners in this outdoorsy cowboy film are legendary.
"You reckon gettin' yourself killed over those cows is worth it?" Charley Waite (Costner) asks Boss Spearman (Duvall). "Cows is one thing, but one man tellin' another man where he can and can't go in this country, that's another... a man's got a right to protect his property and his life, and we ain't lettin' no rancher or his lawmen take neither."